Do you wear a Claddagh Ring? Or do you always buy them as gifts for your loved ones?
All around the world, people seem to love The Claddagh Ring. It is one of Ireland’s most recognisable symbols, and a uniquely Irish expression of love.
Our heritage determines how we receive a Claddagh, but our hearts determine how we wear it.
Love, Loyalty & Friendship (Grá, Dílseacht agus Cairdeas)
The more precious rings are also offered as a “promise” or engagement ring. Most of all, Brides and Grooms exchange a Claddagh as an enduring symbol of romantic love – their Wedding Rings.
In Irish families, we often receive a vintage ring as an inheritance from our parents. They, in turn, may have received it from their own family members. This is especially relevant, representing an unbroken line of family love and commitment from our forebears.
Some people are the first in their family to buy or wear a Claddagh, and they begin a new tradition of their own. Many people of Irish heritage are now reviving the Claddagh customs in their own modern family.
You can be sure that a Claddagh ring is a gift filled with meaning. How could it not be?
You are boldly declaring your friendship, loyalty or love!
One Name, Two Stories, Three Symbols, Four Meanings!
One Name – The Claddagh Ring (An Fáinne Cladach)
First of all, where does the traditional name for this design come from?
This specific style of ring is known by one name only, the Claddagh Ring. History records the first example in County Galway. Just outside the old city walls, the fishing-village of Claddagh sat on a rocky shore where the River Corrib enters Galway Bay. (The village no longer exists, it is now a suburb of Galway City.)
So what does the name mean?
- The Irish word “Cladach” means “seashore”. The word was originally pronounced “klad-ukh” with a typical Irish hard sound at the end.
- The anglicised form is “Claddagh”. Nowadays, people mostly pronounce it “klad -uh”, with a softer sound to the final syllable.
There are two stories associated with the first Claddagh Ring. Which do you prefer? Pirates, slaves, sweethearts and reunions? Or business magnates, philanthropy and gold-bearing eagles? There’s always a good story to be heard in Ireland -take your pick!
The year is 1677. Richard Joyce is engaged to a local girl, both natives of the Claddagh fishing-village in Galway. Hoping to make his fortune and a better life for them both, he takes a job on a merchant ship. However, the ship is attacked by Barbary Pirates, who are raiding all along the coast of Northern Africa. Richard’s captors sell him as a slave to a Moorish Goldsmith.
In Algeria, he learns his trade from the Master metalworker and jeweller. But Richard never forgets his home, or the girl he loves. He hopes that someday he will return home to Ireland so they may marry. Therefore, he secretly collects scraps of gold, and fashions them into a wedding ring for his beloved.
12 long years pass. Then, in 1689 the newly-crowned King William of Orange sends an ambassador to Algiers to demand the release of all British subjects being held prisoner there. The Algerians agree, and Richard Joyce is now free! The Goldsmith almost begs him to stay, and offers him half of his fortune and his daughter’s hand in marriage. Richard refuses, and sails for home. He finds his sweetheart on his return, and offers her the very first Claddagh Ring. They marry soon after, and go on to have three daughters.
Richard Joyce continues to trade as a goldsmith until 1730. He specialises in Claddagh Rings for marriage ceremonies, and also produces ecclesiastical relics of superior craftsmanship. Since Richard’s work is so original, the design becomes popular throughout Galway, and rapidly spreads farther afield. As a result, many Irish families own a Claddagh ring, and the heirloom tradition begins.
The second theory also relates to the Joyce family of Galway, but takes us further back in time.
Margaret Joyce of Galway marries Domingo de Rona, a wealthy Spanish merchant who is actively trading on the West Coast of Ireland. She moves to Spain to begin her new life, but her husband passes away after a few short years of marriage. Now a rich widow, she returns to Ireland.
In 1596 she marries again, this time to Oliver Óg Ffrench, the Mayor of Galway. She uses her inheritance to fund the construction of many improvements to the locality, especially bridges and trading facilities. One day, whilst she sits outside, an eagle flies overhead and drops a gold Claddagh ring into her lap. Everyone considers this miraculous event to be a heaven-sent reward for her benevolence!
In Genealogy forums, Margaret’s modern-day ancestors tell how her providential ring design was to influence Richard Joyce nearly one hundred years later.
This uniquely Irish design combines three distinct elements:
- The Heart in the centre means Love (Grá)
- The Crown, that sits above all, means Loyalty (Dílseacht)
- The Hands, holding the heart, mean Friendship (Cairdeas)
Since Roman times, hand and heart motif rings are being made for marriage ceremonies. Some are known as “Fede” rings, from the Latin “mani in fede” meaning “hands in faith”. Interlocking pairs of rings are known as “Gimmels”, again from the Latin “gemellus” or twins. You can view an early example from the British Museum here.
The addition of the crown symbol takes this ancient design and makes it uniquely Irish.
With these hands, I give you my heart and crown it with my loyalty.
The Irish custom is to wear your Claddagh ring to signify your romantic status:
- Are you in love? You should wear your Claddagh ring with the heart pointing towards your body.
- If you are not yet fully committed, wear your ring with the heart pointing outward.
- Are you married or engaged? Then wear it on the third finger of your left hand.
- Still single? You should wear it on your right hand.
Be mindful how you wear your Claddagh ring: you’re sending out some very personal signals!
Entertainers and Royals wearing the Claddagh:
Entertainment gossip tells that Jennifer Aniston, Bono, Gabriel Byrne, Mia Farrow, Liam Gallagher, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Julia Roberts wear Claddaghs.
Bing Crosby, Jim Morrison, Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne proudly wore them too!
Walt Disney and his wife exchanged Claddaghs in 1948 when they visited his ancestral home in Ireland. If you are ever in Walt Disney World, and you pass his statue, you will clearly see the Claddagh ring on his finger!
U.S. Presidents John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton each had Claddagh rings presented to them whilst visiting Ireland.
The Claddagh is the only Irish ring that British monarchs wear! Queen Victoria, Queen Alexandria and King Edward VII all owned a Claddagh. Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco also received gifts of Claddagh design, not rings, but a brooch and a pair of cuff-links.
The Claddagh Ring Story – An Animation Project by Museum of Galway.
In conclusion, may we share with you a lovely youth project that details the Claddagh story? In 2013, Galway City Museum hires an animator Edith Pieperhoff to work with a group of teenagers from the Galway region. They research, write and develop a series of short stop-motion animations relating to the historic Claddagh Village. Their short video is below, please take a look!
We hope you have enjoyed our introduction to the stories about the Claddagh Ring.
Would you like to begin the Claddagh tradition in your own family? You can find many beautiful rings for all budgets and occasions at Skellig Gift Store. Choose from our selection right here: